The NY Times: A Year-Long Analysis: Part 2

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on September 3, 2008

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-Read the excerpt below (from the report posted at
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column. Then answer the questions.


… we looked at 205 [New York Times] articles between July of 2007 and June of 2008. …when reviewing headlines and photographs, it is clear that there is an inherent bias in New York Times reporting about the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict that favors the Palestinians.


  • 75 percent of the photographs that could be objectively determined as drawing sympathy for one side or the other in the conflict favored the Palestinians. Palestinian casualties of Israeli military operations and pictures of civilians dealing with shortages in Gaza dominated Times coverage during the time period studied. 

No matter how accurately a news story is written, an accompanying photograph may destroy all objectivity as the reader is emotionally steered away from the facts by a moving image. When images that evoke sympathy for one side in a conflict are shown in far greater numbers than those which capture the anguish and suffering of the other side, it is a clear case of bias. In our review, we counted 73 images that could be described as supporting either the Israeli or Palestinian side. Three quarters of these images evoke sympathy for the Palestinians and portray a scene lacking in context. Even though these pictures are not taken by New York Times photographers, it is a Times editorial judgement as to which wire service images should run with a story.

Take a look at the image below of the funeral for a Palestinian teacher killed in an Israeli attack that ran above the story on February 8, 2008.

The image and caption are rather disturbing. Relatives are crying over the death of a woman killed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Yet this image is rather misleading if its purpose was to illustrate the events described by the accompanying article. Several salient facts shed light on the scene in the photograph and put it in its proper context: 

  1. Palestinian terrorist had launched a rocket that landed near a playground and nursery the day before that wounded two Israeli children.
  2. Before the Israeli attack, seven Qassam rockets and four mortar shells had hit Israel wounding two more civilians.
  3. According to the Associated Press, the “school” where the “teacher” worked was just a series of huts that Palestinian militants had used as cover to launch attacks.

Why would the Palestinians launch attacks from civilian areas? Obviously in hopes that Israeli retaliation would result in civilian casualties and pictures such as the one above would be published by the media and turn public opinion against Israel. Times’ readers are more likely to remember the emotional picture of the funeral for a dead teacher killed by Israel than the actual facts listed above


Below is yet another example. Before getting to the well-written, balanced article by Steve Erlanger, a reader would first see civilians clutching infants running from an Israeli attack.

The picture does a disservice to Erlanger’s article which clearly puts the events in their proper context.

According to the article: 

Medics at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis said that Sami Fayyad’s wife was wounded, and that the couple’s 3-year-old daughter was clinically dead.

Sami Fayyad, 30, was a fighter with Islamic Jihad’s military wing. Ahmad Fayyad, 32, was a former member of the Palestinian Authority security forces. Israeli Army spokesmen said the brothers were firing on Israeli forces from alongside and inside the house. The house was hit by at least one tank shell, and Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces, using armored bulldozers, then collapsed the rest of the house.

In a statement, Israel said blame for the deaths of the women “lies with the gunmen, who operated intentionally from a civilian environment.”

Yet once again, it is the image of civilians running for their lives while holding their children that most will remember.


… even a well-written, objective article can end up misunderstood if the … images around it distract from the story rather than complement it. Unfortunately, the issue of … image selection that we highlighted last year are still a serious problem. The Times should make sure that:

  • There is an even distribution of images that illustrate the most salient points of the accompanying articles. subscribers can help push the New York Times to take these measures by writing to the Public Editor of the New York Times by clicking

[] plans to continue publishing long term analyses of specific media to determine whether reporting is fair and consistent. You can read [their] previous analysis of the New York Times here.

Read the complete report on The New York Times at


1.  What type of bias is the excerpt below an example of?

2.  Do you agree with’s assertion that “even a well-written, objective article can end up misunderstood if the headlines and images around it distract from the story rather than complement it”?  Explain your answer.

3.  How important do you think photos and images are to a reader’s impression of a news story?  Explain your answer.

4.  Challenge: Send an email to The Times’ public editor at expressing your opinion on this issue.  Mention you read the analysis.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.


1.  The excerpt is an example of bias by spin – spin makes one side’s ideological perspective look better than another.  (Read more at “Types of Media Bias” –  scroll down for an explanation of spin.)
2. and 3.  Opinion questions. Answers vary.